Adjectival and verbal agreement in the oral production of early and late bilinguals. Fluency, complexity, and integrated knowledge

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Extended oral production has seldom been used to explore adjectival and verbal agreement in L2 Spanish. This study examines oral narrations to compare the agreement behavior, speech rates, and patterns of errors of highly proficient Spanish heritage and L2 learners (early and late bilinguals, respectively), whose L1 is English, with those of native controls. Although both bilingual groups displayed high agreement accuracy scores, only the early bilinguals performed at or close to ceiling. In addition, the L2 learners spoke significantly more slowly than the heritage and native speakers, who displayed similar speech rates. Explanations accounting for the differences in speech rates and agreement accuracy include age of acquisition of Spanish, syntactic distance between a noun and its adjective, and task effects. All of these factors favored the early bilinguals, enhancing their advantages over L2 learners. Findings suggest that the integrated knowledge and automatic access needed for native-like attainment in agreement behavior in extended oral production is more easily achievable by early than by late bilinguals.

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